Eastern Europe And Anti-Muslim Sentiment

After the migrant crisis that has seen more than one million refugees from Syria and elsewhere flood into Germany over the past year, Islamophobia has entered the political mainstream in the Czech Republic and other eastern European countries.

In particular, 10 days ago, anti-Islam demonstration were provocatively staged outside Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Prague, the Czech capital. According to The National , it was the latest in a series of stunts by a fringe far-right group designed to cause the maximum shock.

Political leaders from Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland do not agree with have recent quota system proposed by the European Union to disperse refugees amongst EU members, as recommended by Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the European Commission.

The commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has tried to push through a proposal to distribute 160,000 asylum seekers around the 28-nation bloc, to ease the distress on Italy and Greece, where many refugees first arrive from the Middle East and North Africa after dangerous journeys across the sea.

However,  countries from Eastern Europe do not agree with the new scheme which has promoted the commission, last May, to threaten to impose €250,000 per individual migrant on countries that refused to accept refugees.

The issue still remains unclear. Even though Poland agreed to accept 7,000 asylum seekers, countries such as Slovakia and Hungary have mounted a legal challenge against the quota plan in the European Court of Justice.

The Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, argued this year that Islam “has no place in Slovakia,” adding that Muslim migrants would “change the face of the country.”  Proving this point, 50 Christian asylum seekers from Iraq have been granted refugee status, so far.

Hungary’s Premier, Viktor Orban, has also displayed anti-Islamic sentiment in a bid to win support in an October 2 referendum. Orban, who was quoted calling migrants “poison”, announced in 2015, that Hungary is preparing to build a border along its southern frontiers with Serbia, Croatia and Romania, after more than 177,000 refugees sought asylum in Hungary, even though 146 were accepted.

Jan Urban, a political commentator from the University of New York in Prague, suggests that the islamaphobia shown by Eastern Europe is ” an artificially trumped-up issue” used by politicians in societies who are often lacking contact with Muslims.

“With the exception of Hungary, none of these countries has any direct experience of the refugee flow,” he said. “You can see the same trend in the former East Germany. There are far fewer refugees there than in the west, yet it’s the number one issue there.”

“But the consequences are much more serious than in the west because it’s so unreal. It’s turning democratic Czech politics upside down and leading to the rise of populist parties. Mainstream politicians have realised that the refugee scare is something the electorate will react to and are scared of losing support to more radical voices. So they are competing to be in the front line of this issue.”

Another example is the Czech President, Milos Zeman, who had advocated in the past for building a border fence in order to keep migrants away. He had also urged the Czechs to be prepared and protect themselves against possible terror attacks.

Although Islam has not much presence in the Czech Republic, with the country’s most recent census in 2011 revealed only around 3,500 Muslims out of a total population of 10.5 million. Where most are from Bosnia-Herzegovina who came during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, while others arrived from the former Soviet Union.

In a recent interview, Zeman, a Social Democrat, rejected suggestions that Muslim immigrants could integrate into the Czech Republic—a country famed for its beer drinking culture and high pork diet — and warned that they would create “isolated ghettos and no-go areas.”

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